Why Is My Dog Eager to Be Pet One Minute and Growling the Next?
Why Is My Dog So Unpredictable?
Did you ever find yourself thinking that your dog has a dual-personality, closely resembling the canine version of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde? Is your dog one minute friendly with your guests and the next growling, barking, or even snapping? It is normal to feel quite upset, especially if you have invested lots of time in socializing and training your dog, and if this is a fairly new behavior.
As a dog trainer, it is not uncommon for me to hear about owners wondering why their dog has drastically changed. Luckily, there are some possible explanations for this behavior, however, good management and a strategic plan are a must to help Rover gain back that stable temperament owners are missing so badly.
Causes for Such Unpredictable Behaviors
Often, dog owners assume their dog is acting out of protection. In true protection however, you would expect some sort of threat going on. Dog trainer and behavior consultant Pam Young claims ''true protection dogs are FRIENDLY to people when their owner has no reason to feel threatened.'' The following are some potential causes for unpredictable Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde syndromes.
Pain and Medical Conditions
Many dogs go into a ''Dr Jeckyl Mr Hyde'' attitude when they have on and off ear infections. In this case, it hurts being pat on the head, especially when the ears are hot and inflamed! Pain therefore is a plausible and understanding trigger that may cause similar reactions, however, there are other medical conditions known to cause aggression in previously friendly dogs such as hypothyroidism and Cushing's disease.
Most dogs are not protective or guarding, so if your dog is reacting to friendly people in non-threatening scenarios, what you are seeing is likely a case of ''weak nerves'' or perhaps, simply a dog telling people petting him that he has had 'enough'. It may be difficult to determine without seeing his body language whether your dog is trying to convey ''you are making me uncomfortable'' or if he is saying a more assertive ''I have had enough, now back off!'' kind of statement.
Second Fear Stage
If the dog is between 6 and 14 months old, it could he or she is going through its second fear period, according to ''Diamonds in the Ruff.''
- ''Many dogs will show a rise in their level of aggression (reactivity) during this time. In large breeds this period could extend longer since it is tied to sexual maturity. Incidents may occur more than once. Corresponds with growth spurts. Therefore it may happen more than once as the puppy matures.''
- ''May suddenly be apprehensive about new things or shy or timid of new people or situations.''
- ''This is a fear of new situations and are handled with the utmost patience.''
- ''It is better to ignore the whole situation than to reinforce the fear by praising the dog or petting him while he is afraid. When you "reassure" a dog with pets and "it's okay, fella", you are telling him it is okay to be frightened and you are creating a potential problem.''
- ''Build confidence through training.''
Dislike of Head Pats/Hugs
Are people patting your dog on the head? Many dogs do not do well being pat on the head. His growling therefore may be your dog's way to say ''I do not like this approach''. Many dogs do better with a chest rub. Patricia McConnell in her book ''For the Love of a Dog'' claims that wolf researchers claim to use head pats to discourage pushy wolves and have them leave! Many dogs dislike hugs. Read the reasons why
Aloofness and ''I've Had Enough'' Syndrome
If your dog does well for the first few seconds of being pet and then becomes aggressive after a while, it could be they are OK with an initial introduction and then have simply had enough. Some dogs become a bit more aloof as they grow, while others may simply want to be ''in charge'' of their interactions. Even with other dogs, they may be OK with a dog sniffing them for a few seconds, but then they may change attitude if the interaction is longer than what they are comfortable with.
If this is the case, make the introduction with your friends very brief, simply have the people let him sniff their hands, and then if he seems friendly, have them ask him a sit. If he complies, let them give a brief pat followed by a treat. This should accomplish several things:
- It should significantly reduce his chances for growling and the less he growls the more likely the behavior will extinguish.
- It should leave a positive impression since it leaves him craving for more. Just as you would stop a training session on a positive note, try doing the same when he is around people.
- The command should diffuse any tension since it will help the dog concentrate on something else other than being reactive.
- By petting briefly before delivering the treat the dog should learn to associate being pet with a treat, and therefore increase his willingness to be pet. He may therefore with time, perhaps tolerate gradually longer petting sessions, however, avoid this if you cannot read signs of increasing stress and discomfort. You want to make safety your top priority and keep your dog comfortable, always ending your session on a positive note. Many times when dogs react upon being pet, the interaction was too long and too close and personal for the dog's taste. Keep it short and sweet if your dog wants attention, so to put him to success. Don't put him in the situation of having to communicate "I had enough".
It's worth mentioning ''conflict-related aggression,'' where dogs exhibit ambivalent signs, like one moment they want to be pet, and the next they are aggressive and no longer in the mood. According to the Purdue University Animal Behavior Clinic: ''Affected dogs learn to use aggression to get themselves out of any uncomfortable situation. The aggression is reinforced because the anticipated "bad" event does not occur.''
Growling, therefore, becomes a way for the dog to protect itself from perceived harm (which may be unfounded), and therefore terminates the uncomfortable situation, and since most likely your friends stop petting him the moment he growls, the growling is reinforced and puts roots.
Has Your Dog Ever Growled at People?
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
Why does my Labrador suddenly switch between the happiest sweetest dog there is and suddenly snapping at our hands if he is being petted? Usually, he is the one that is initiating the pets, and if he wants no more he walks away, but sometimes he just bites out of nowhere with no visible indications it's coming.
There can be various causes for this behavior. Has he always been this way or is this a new behavior? If it's a new behavior, it might be worthy of seeing the vet. Keep record of whether this behavior takes place when he is touched in a particular area. Also, worthy of wondering is whether the times he tries to bite is because he is being cornered or restrained in some way that prevents him from walking away.When dogs can't move away, they are likely to become defensive and bite. Is this a puppy? If so, he needs to learn to enjoy being handled. This can be done by petting briefly praising and then feeding a treat, pet/treat, pet/treat, pet/treat for several sessions, gradually increasing the time he is being pet, until he looks forward to being pet because he has asociated with all these good things. He can also be pet briefly before being released to go eat his meal. This method can be used as well with older dogs, but I would recommend seeing a trainer or behavior consultant for safety and correct implementation.Helpful 26
My chihuahua used to let me pet her. She is usually very affectionate and loves being petted, but all of a sudden she starts growling and biting at me when I pet her. Why is this?
There can be various possibilities. Perhaps you did something that may have startled her in the past, although not intentional. Some things as innocent like a sneeze, sudden laughter, coughing, dropping things on the floor at times may startle dogs, and they may not like to be approached. In some cases, small dogs may not like to be picked up to be petted. At times, it can be the dog is suffering from some health issue that makes being petted painful (ear infection, neck/back pain, etc.). Some dogs may like to be pet, but they get tired of it soon and tell owners they had enough by growling. There can be many more explanations such as using a different perfume that bothers the dog, the emotion of the person, etc.Helpful 17
My dog is very friendly and wants attention from everyone. But sometimes, with certain people, he becomes aggressive. Even though he might growl or snap at one of those friends, he always goes back to them for more attention. Why does this happen, and why with only a select number of people? My dog is a large mixed breed, neutered, four-years-old and has always had this behavior.
There is likely some pattern going on, but it is not being noticed. In behavior terms, we are looking for the "antecedent" in other words exactly what is triggering the behavior. It could be anything as subtle as not being comfortable around people with blue eyes, wearing hats, smelling like alcohol or approaching him in a certain way. It sounds like though he recovers afterward and approaches again. Something to consider as well is whether perhaps he dislikes being touched in a certain way. Until the underlying trigger is found, it may be difficult working on the problem because we do not know what is causing it. In the meanwhile, please use caution as these behaviors may escalate. Perhaps a behavior professional can help pinpoint the problem and suggest a behavior modification plan.Helpful 14
Do you give referrals for animal behavior specialists? I'm having issues with a couple of behaviors from asking for affection and then biting to growling and snapping when he is sleeping and other defensive behavior in general. He is almost three, neutered, and didn't show any of these behaviors the first year or so. I'm looking for some professional help.
I do not offer referrals specifically, but generally, a DACVB can be a good place to start since sometimes defensive behaviors can be seen in dogs due to medical problems. Since your dog hasn't shown any signs prior to the first 1.5 years, you may want to rule out medical problems first before considering behavior modification. A DACVB is a board-certified veterinarian specializing in behavior, a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists.Helpful 7
Why does my little dog growl every time I pet him?
It sounds like he may be uncomfortable. Some dogs do not enjoy being petted. It could also be he has some sort of pain going on. Small, sensitive dogs in particular who often go to the groomers may become hand shy or not very tolerant of being handled/touched in the long term.Helpful 6
© 2011 Adrienne Janet Farricelli